PITTSBURGH – The Steelers welcomed a familiar face back to the field Friday as All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu took part in a practice for the first time since suffering a torn calf muscle in a win over Philadelphia Oct. 7.
When the Steelers (6-4) take the field Sunday at Cleveland (2-8), it will likely still be veteran Will Allen lining up at strong safety instead of Polamalu – for at least one more week. Despite practicing, Polamalu is doubtful to play.
The 30-year-old Allen has helped solidify the Steelers defense in Polamalu’s absence.
In their first four games with Polamalu playing just a game and a quarter and Ryan Mundy replacing him at safety, the Steelers allowed 22.2 points per game.
In their past six with Allen starting, the Steelers have given up an average of 16.6 points, allowing more than 20 points only once, as they have risen to their normal spot at the top of the NFL’s defensive rankings. The Steelers are giving up an NFL-low 259.1 yards per game.
“He plays hard,” said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “He has continued to be productive on special teams. He is just a really solid veteran, and professional who can go in there, get the job done and let your defense function. He has definitely done a good job.”
In his first extended playing time since joining the Steelers as a free agent in 2010 from Tampa Bay, Allen has recorded 25 tackles and defended five passes. He’s not been the disruptive force that Polamalu has been throughout his career, but Allen has given the Steelers a boost.
“I’m starting to understand what guys need and what is expected of me,” said Allen, who hadn’t started since 2006 with Tampa Bay. “I’m having a lot of fun running around hitting guys.”
Though everyone knows there’s no true replacement for Polamalu.
“I don’t think you should compare anybody to Polamalu,” said LeBeau. “In my mind, he is as different as any safety I have ever seen. He can do everything. Allen has the speed and tenacity that Polamalu has. Allen has gotten to a ton of footballs and has played very well. I think Allen has his own style of play. You’ve all seen that it’s very productive and effective.”
In addition to Polamalu, the Steelers got some good news with Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown.
Brown, who has not played since spraining an ankle three weeks ago against the Giants, returned to practice Friday and is questionable to play against the Browns.
Odds and end zones
Running back Isaac Redman passed all his concussion tests and has been cleared to play against the Browns. Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger (ribs, shoulder) and Byron Leftwich (ribs) are out, as are offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (ribs). Allen (shoulder) defensive end Ziggy Hood (back), guard Willie Colon (knee) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) are probable.